I don’t live in the past—I only visit—and so can you!

VERY MODEL OF A MODERN VIKING WARRIOR Part 1

No matter what some reenactors seem to believe,  we are not Norse warriors of the last millennium. Hell, we are not even Norse anything of the last millennium. We are play-actors of this millennium—of this century—who are dressing in the same style of clothing that might have been worn during the last millennium, who are doing things that night have been done during the last millennium, who are giving the illusion of dwelling in the culture of the last millennium. In fact, giving the illusion of culture—hopefully everyday—of a previous millennium is the very root of all living history, but the big drawback is that the reenactor has been educated by modern education. He is familiar with the modern culture and, unless special efforts and study are taken, he is making decisions according to a modern aesthetic. He is using taste and preferences and, yes, logic, that he has been taught by modern culture.

Any attempt to get beyond these ingrained aesthetics is difficult and rather artificial. Writings from the period are very important and influential, and surprisingly, there are more than a  few.

Military Commands

Actually, this is how this whole article started. Military conduct is today so ingrained into our modern cultures, that it seems natural to have existed.

Old Norse and Old English military commands are very evocative, but were they used in period? I cannot find any good examples. Certainly there was training in weapons use, and inevitably training in forming a shield wall, &c., but I am wondering about the modern concept of military drill, training and commands during the Viking Age era. Rob Thomas very pertinently notes that “If orders weren’t given…How would you get your line to move forward? Prodding your army in the back with your sword will just cause resentment amongst the troops.” And Kim Siddorn adds, “It wasn’t the sort if thing anyone was writing down in a semi-literate age.”

It seems then that, for the most part and outside of using musical instruments whose sounds carried farther than even the loudest voice, the idea of adapting conventional military commands to the time is rather anachronistic and appeals more to the modern military mind! There simply was no von Steuben military manual for the time! Having standard commands was an alien to most mindsets as specified uniforms until far later in time, and neither perhaps should be standard for reenactors of the period!

Nonetheless, the advantages of having conventional commands—both Englisc  and Norse—in modern reenacting is advantageous both for the reenactors to understand what is expected and being done but for spectators to appreciate a taste of the culture:

Command

Old English

Old Norse

Stand at ease

Standeth softie

H’vild

Attention

Aweccan

Oppmeskohmet

Advance

Forth on gewinn gangeth

Fram!

Form up

Trimmiath

Reisa alvaepni

Charge!

Onraes!

Geysa

Retreat

Withertrod

Aptra!

Garments

The illusion of life in another century is concentrated on the garments that the participants wear. More than man other eras, there seems to be a tendency to wear incorrect garments in films and other popular portrayal of the Viking Age, and for many reenactors seeing these errors so gleefully and ubiquitously presented in so many places means that they are foremost in some viewers’ minds. While many variation in interpretations are possible among honest researchers, there seems to be a movement for non-period garments, for such things as lamellar armor and greaves, for incorrect fabrics such as leather and for such later manifestations such as cross gaiters.

This is, in many ways, not as it was common as during the previous eras, because easy access to good research is available. Gail Owen-Crocker’s Dress in Anglo-Saxon England and Þor Ewing’s Viking Clothing are as easily available as works by Iris Brooks and by Ruth Turner Wilcox, which are unfortunately just as ubiquitously available. Even the work by Herbert Norris, which are very useful in some aspects, are marred by a tendency to misinterpret graphics. Unless one is discerning and learns the basics of costume at the time, there is often a tendency to incorporate the incorrect and more fanciful interpretations!

Reading the readily available research and documentation—such as that in Þor Ewing’s overview of Viking Clothing—is required. A person who merely uncritically believes an undocumented presentation is going to end up more a version of Lee Majors in “The Norseman” rather than a believable presentation of the appearance of the time!

—To Be Continued

Many books on accurate costuming is readily available from such sources as Barnes and Noble , but the purchaser should be careful and critical, since books by Iris Brooks and others of her type are also readily available!

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